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SB2 defeated in Bow by nearly 4-to-1 margin, youth center purchase approved

  • John Martin speaks about SB2 from an overflow room at the Bow Town Meeting on Wednesday, March 18, 2021. vpalange

Monitor staff
Published: 3/18/2021 4:48:01 PM

In a five and a half-hour meeting filled with debate and a full hour to cast ballots, Bow voters defeated a proposed change to adopt an alternate form of town meeting, and voted to approve the town purchase of the Bow Youth Center.

Select Board chairman Chris Nicolopoulos introduced the change to the town meeting format, known as SB 2, by saying the intent of the board was to “get the citizens’ pulse” on the issue and that the board looked forward “to the direction from the citizens.”

Nicolopoulos also acknowledged the contentious nature of moving away from a traditional in-person town meeting and splitting the process in two – where warrant articles are discussed and edited at a deliberative session, and then voted on a month later at the polls.

Just like in years past, the issue proved contentious in town prior to Wednesday’s meeting.

“I think there’s been an open and public debate on the issue and I think the turnout of over 300 people tonight speaks to that,” Nicolopoulos said.

The higher-than-expected attendance created difficulties early on as moderator Peter Imse and his assistant moderators worked to accommodate attendees and COVID-19 precautions with remote classrooms with video-feeds from the main meeting in the auditorium.

The discussion centered around the ideas of making voting on town issues more accessible versus preserving town tradition and preventing small motivated groups from dramatically altering warrant articles. Several speakers also expressed displeasure with the way the issue of SB 2 had been brought up.

Resident Lisa Cohen pointed out that in years past when SB 2 had been brought before the town, it had been by a petition from the voters or via a committee.

“There was no input from the voters, there was no input from the constituency,” she said of this year’s process.

Imse, who recused himself from moderating this section of debate due to his public opinion on the issue, argued with others that the tradition of the town meeting was too precious to lose. He and many others also said that the discussion that comes with a town meeting was invaluable to the process of voters making informed decisions on issues.

Others expressed concern that the deliberative session that is part of SB 2 protocol could easily be “hijacked” by a small party of citizens, who could then drastically change the budget or warrant language before it could be presented to voters.

Proponents of SB 2 argued that voters do not require a town meeting debate to be informed on issues. Due to the nature of the internet and the town’s ability to post relevant information on its website, all the homework could still be done without the need for a town meeting, they argued. Additionally, town meeting and its long hours pose a difficulty for some residents, and changing to SB 2 would allow more people to vote and be engaged with the process, they said.

When discussion was over, the vote was held by ballot box, which was left open and available for an hour. This, town officials said, allowed people watching via livestream to come and vote even if they weren’t in the building. The measure was voted down by a nearly 4-to-1 margin, with 111 in favor and 426 against. The tally amounted to almost 200 more voters than the next article discussed.

“I think the numbers speak for themselves,” former school board member Robert Louf said after the meeting. He also said that he “would not be surprised” if SB 2 came up again.

For him, the issue is about voter engagement.

“You come away from the meeting knowing that you were informed, had the ability to participate and engage in the process,” he said, and people have “the chance to convince and otherwise argue a point.”

Another question that spurred debate was spending $1,250,000 to acquire the Bow Youth Center, across the street from the middle school. The debate revolved around whether the town should get involved in private business by purchasing the childcare center.

Advocates for the measure consisted mainly of parents who considered the offerings of the Youth Center to be essential. Some also pointed out that having a town-run childcare center could attract young families to the town and called it a long-term investment.

The measure passed after many attendees left for the night.

All other warrant articles passed, including the $11.7 million municipal budget and the capital reserve fund measures.

Also announced at the meeting were the results of the town election last week: Benjamin Kiniry and Andrew Mattiace won the two seats for budget committee, Mridula Naik was re-elected as town clerk, Roland Gamelin was elected as town treasurer, Jonathan Marvin was elected as trustee of the trust funds, and Bob Arnold and Matt Gatzke were voted in as library trustees.

The selectmen’s race, a three-way race for two seats between Matthew Poulin, Michael Wayne, and Jeffrey Levesque, is currently in the midst of a recount, which will occur next Monday at 4 p.m. Wayne received 493 votes, Pulin 408 and Levesque 402.

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